I’ve been asked by a friend to describe why I found a recent boat design commission such a fulfilling experience. Before I’d confessed these feelings I felt uncomfortable deep-down. How could I reconcile taking this on with all I’ve been writing recently about the benefits of turning away from customary paths, of doing no-thing until the spirit moves us to a better path?
I now see how this project actually fits into what I’ve been working towards. Instead of a repudiation, a backsliding, this has been a minor epiphany. Only made possible after reaching a point I’d been wrestling towards before this opportunity arose. What occurred, in a small way, was a conjunction of internal and external factors that met on converging trajectories. The most fundamental internal change that led to this has been a focus on attuning myself to acceptance. Acceptance, we so often see as a passive virtue. Some sort of consolation prize when our attempts to control – to get what we want – have failed. The problem with seeing acceptance this way is that we never give up our belief in control. Unless we internalize acceptance as its own value, on its own terms, we will not break out of the trap of control.
Now this insight has been twisted in popular self-help and salvation scams. I don’t intend to fall into a similar trap here so bear with me.
We’ll need to go off on a sizable excursion. I’m not sure how this will lead us back; but I hope it’s worth the risk….
Thinking of how a friend appeared trapped in circumstances, struck with strong memories of feeling that way myself for so many years, I came to realize that we tend to feel ourselves held hostage in our lives. We feel that unless we submit to whatever pragmatic necessity holds our attention, this gift of life, of awareness, of experience within the world, will be taken from us or at least seriously diminished. This shades from concern over constraints on our freedom to enjoy our lives, on to fears of outright incapacitation or incarceration, through to the fear of premature death and ultimately to a dread of death itself. The world seems organized so we must negotiate our way between a myriad of these threats. If only we could avoid what we can avoid and accommodate ourselves to constraints we cannot control we’d be OK. This holds us in a reactive posture. We focus on avoidance and accommodation. We feel as though life is but a struggle for control over ways and means.
This view is compelling. There are countless incidents we pass through which seem to validate the underlying premise that we are surrounded by threats and must control them to survive. Proceeding in a fashion that seems both logical and emotionally satisfying, we roll more and more of our lives into appeasing this imperative. At some stage – or never – we begin to feel a pointlessness as we find we’ve given-up so much of our original gift in our attempts to protect it that life barely seems worth living. This leads to depression, and in some, on to the conclusion that the only solution is to terminate our lives. End the struggle by forfeiting the gift.
As I’ve said before, this is the epitome of Narcissism, the apogee of the Will to Control. Discovering that the only control we ultimately have at our disposal is an ability to take away, to destroy, to annihilate; we finally turn control against ourselves.
How do we back away from this precipice?
First, let’s look at this hostage situation we find ourselves in. Where is the power? We expect the power to be in the hands of our oppressors. We are the hostage, the victim. Victim-hood holds such emotional appeal. It’s currently the most powerful drug. So popular that the most powerful people amongst us now want to hold it as a monopoly for themselves. How else to explain the depths of self-indulgence required for the richest, most advantaged people in the world to give up all pretense of self-respect to scramble and fight over the right to proclaim their own victim-hood superior to that of anyone else? They charge about seeking out the soothing benefits only to be found under this thick engulfing mantle of blame.
Let’s leave them to it, recognizing that it will only lead to their arrival at eventual irrelevancy that much sooner. Although it does make them very dangerous as they lose all sense of limits under the spell of this addiction.
If the spell of victim-hood is an addiction and an illusion then how else can we look at our “hostage” situation?
Let’s start at the beginning. We have a gift. We hold it precious. From it we derive everything we value. Without it we disappear….
So far so good.
We experience threats to our gift.
This is also inevitable and true.
We respond in some way.
This is where we make contact with reality. Where we have an impact on how things will go. If we imagine that we can control the outcome, we begin along the path to victim-hood and annihilation.
What choice do we have?
This is the question. We automatically infer a certain desperation. At least in the tone we hear ourselves adopt as we cry out. Is this the only way to ask this question? If we back away from desperation and face the question more calmly, without expectations, we may find a space opening up around it and us.
Exactly what choice do we have?
None that I can see. We either accept the gift and discover and accept the terms under which we receive it. Putting aside, at least for now, the nature of its giver. This is a separate question. If we go defensive and fall into the trap of control and if control leads to forfeit, what choice do we have; but to accept?
A truly liberating moment! Through this act of realization, bringing about what-is, we deny the power of the world to control our gift by controlling how we respond to perceived threats against our condition. We are free to accept and embody our gift. This dynamic drives us into the present.
Drives us into the present. What an unusual thought? We expect life to be a continual drive into the future. As David Abrams so ably points out, the future is over the horizon or on the backside of the objects that make-up our phenomenological world of perception. It exists; but we’re never there. So why put all of our emphasis on a rush to a place that continually recedes from view?
Just think of the relief. The energy released from such an impossible commitment to the “Future” when we accept this drive into the present. Present is, after all, another name for gift, hiding in plain sight.
This truly does lead to cause for celebration. Celebration might be that feeling we have of lightness when the pressure of our continued oppression is released. In this way, the concept, and the rituals – rites of celebration – all come together and begin to make sense. They tie us to our internal lodestone, directing us towards liberation and away from oppression. Seen this way ritual – rites – are revitalized. They find their place and are embodied in us in one fell-swoop!
The score so far: Turning our backs on the desperate will to control, we have found ourselves re-animated and connected ever more profoundly with our gift, the source of our joy, and we have discovered celebration.
If there is any validity to the expectation that evolution has been shaped by instinct; that there are life-affirming instincts that have guided life throughout its existence; then I would say; here is a powerful example. If instinct is a broad form of implementation by which complex judgments are reached beneath the surface of awareness then here are two great examples. Our instinctive reaction to following the path of control is dread, desperation, and depression. Following the path of acceptance, we gain access to our gift. We are driven into the present and we find reason to rejoice, to celebrate. Could we infer from this that instinct is attempting to sway us towards a certain path?
This analysis points at the difference between the “trick” of self-help or adopting a powerful religious “super-pal” and what can occur when we follow a path of acceptance for the simple reason that we have no other choice.
Neither will satisfy us if we hold onto the desire for never-ending possession of our gift or its benefits. We give nothing up by refusing to fall into control. Control holds out a false promise that it provides guarantees. Refuse to fall for this false-promise and everything opens up, including a way to face inevitable loss.
From within the grasp of control we see loss as theft. In a perpetual state of panic over what we are missing – either because we have turned our backs on the present in hopes of securing a future we can never inhabit or because we have fallen into vicious cycles as our instincts for life shut-down – we never feel we have enough. Satiety is always out of reach.
Within the realm of acceptance we find ourselves within satiety. If each moment of our gift is experienced, the joy we feel, the celebration we enact, is that of having found that we inhabit our own satisfaction. We are filled with enough. From out of a life where even brief moments of this alchemy have occurred we don’t look at loss the same way. Embedded in our celebration, both as internal joys and external rites, we know there will be an end to the party. We know and accept – acceptance is a reflex that grows and strengthens through use, just like any other – we accept that for our satiety to have meaning it must eventually relax and pass away. So long as we have need for such things, we will endure, at least in part through the memory of satisfaction attained. We will have the sense of a gift fulfilled.
Here’s a small example. I’ve just discovered how this would all come back around, and in that moment, I found a simple answer to my friend’s question,
How has this boat design commission been fulfilling?
I found in it the joy of fulfilling a significant part of my gift. Circumstances conspired to give me exactly what I needed, when I needed it, and in a way that allowed me to live precious moments within a realm I’ve dedicated decades of my life to. To do this, not as a willful act of imposition or self-indulgence, but within a social sphere involving bonds with old friends and new, in which what I’ve created can go on to be enjoyed by others and provide a catalyst for the kind of transformational change sailing and boats have had for me in my life. Having allowed myself to open to such a possibility instead of reacting to it as yet another potential burden has been a gift of acceptance. One that’s already gone a long way to changing me and the way I respond to my world.